If I’m correct Sforno in his commentary on Bereshit 3:1 teaches in short that the snake represents ‘the power of imagination’ (imaginative faculty).

The Or HaChayim teaches that Adam and Chava were able to understand ‘the language’ that the animals ‘spoke’.

Abarbanel explains this, stating that the serpent did not speak literally, but through its actions and appearance (see also Job 12: 7-8, 28:14, 28:22, Psalm 148: 7 for similar examples) and the thought that man had about this.

Hence, by the acts of the serpent, it was supposed that the fruits of the tree of knowledge would be delightfully good. Bereshit 3:10, according to Abarbanel, would mean, "Adam's imagination was more tricky than the imagination of any other beast of the field. Because the human imagination is capable of forming syllogisms and arguments that appear to be true - something that animals are incapable of ". The snake is seen by the Chazal as the symbol of the imagination and the Zohar explains that the snake’s voice was not the voice of a living being, but 'an inner voice' (internal dialogue) which convinced Chava (defended and convincingly) to eat from the tree.

If there was a real snake (external force) which through the power of our imagination formed an image (inner voice) which Chava and Adam thought of to be the truth, which caused them to sin. Then it was only an trigger which started this thought process.

In such a case what should we make of the words spoken by HaShem in Bereshit 3:14-15?

[And for those who would like to share other options/thoughts - if the snake (could be an animal, satan, yetzer hara or one of the malachim) did indeed literally spoke to Chava then why was it cursed? Wasn’t the snake just fulfilling (its mission/task/purpose) what it was made for.

  • 2
    Does this answer your question? Why was the snake punished? – Renato Grun Sep 21 at 0:50
  • @RenatoGrun not really, I would like to know the meaning of the words “you shall go on your belly” and “eating dust” etc, if we follow the idea that the snake was not a real snake or didn’t spoke in the literal sense. – Levi Sep 21 at 11:01
  • I’m not asking why it was punished, but for the meaning of this punishment/curse. Some commentaries talk about a snake with legs, being highly spiritual etc, but I find the explanations as given by Sforno, Abarbanel, the Or HaChayim, Zohar (and other sources) quite plausible, yet I can’t figure out how to explain the curse in those cases; which seems to refer directly to an actual physical snake which needs to go on its belly and eat dust. – Levi Sep 21 at 11:06

Maybe the pessukim are man's curse on the anti-man in (or of) man, similar to the curse found in various places in the gemara - אמר ר"א כל אדם שיש בו חנופה אפילו עוברין שבמעי אמו מקללין אותו

(That one is from Sotah 41, but it also occurs in other places in Shas.)

For example, Rav Hutner explains the nature of the kellalah of mi shepara (https://he.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D7%9E%D7%99_%D7%A9%D7%A4%D7%A8%D7%A2) is that the punishment of the dor hamabul and dor haphlagah was that their tzurah enoshis was diminished. By the same token, if someone does not keep their word, their tzurah enoshis is also diminished, because a man keeps his word.

Rav Hutner also points out that the punishment of Adam was a miut tzurah


דאמר רבי אלעזר אדם הראשון מן הארץ עד לרקיע שנאמר למן היום אשר ברא אלהים אדם על הארץ וכיון שסרח הניח הקב"ה ידיו עליו ומיעטו

If so it would seem that it is nitan leheamer that the curse of the snake is a curse on the pesichus she'be'adam.

The words of the curse (go on your belly, eating dust, etc.) mean that if a person is rodef taanugei olam hazeh, power, etc., then in the end their pesichus will be revealed to all, similar to the following idea in the Mesillas Yesharim


משל לבית מלא תבן, והיה בבית חורין, והיה התבן נכנס בהם, לאחר ימים התחיל אותו התבן שהיה בתוך אותם החורין יוצא, ידעו הכל כי היה אותו בית של תבן. כן הדבר הזה, שלא יוכלו תמיד להסתיר את עצמם, ומחשבתם הרעה תהיה ניכרת מתוך מעשיהם

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  • Maybe not? So you have a source? – Yaakov5777 Sep 21 at 8:43
  • Could you explain this somewhat more; how should the words that HaShem uttered in such a case be understood; “you shall go on your belly” “eating dust” etc. – Levi Sep 21 at 10:59
  • @yaakov5777 Added some explanation, is that better? – The GRAPKE Sep 21 at 23:17
  • @Levi Added explanation, thanks – The GRAPKE Sep 21 at 23:26

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